Counter-Coherence Approach to Preaching

The sermon I prepared for Judges 5 was informed by the feminist scholar, Mieke Bal, and her work on Judges. Bal seeks to give a counter reading. A counter-coherence approach by its very definition is about providing an alternative story. Bal’s reading is an act of resistance.[1] She takes the textual elements, particularly the minor elements, and asks whether they can be arranged in another way to produce a new story. This story is still grounded in the text but has perhaps been ignored or neglected because it exists on the margins. This approach is controversial but I think potentially worthwhile.

In a counter-coherence approach, an evangelical preacher would deliberately choose to identify with a minor character in the biblical narrative and sit with that character.[14] They could take on Bal’s strategy and choose to focus on the marginal elements in a text. This is what I chose to do in my sermon. But I didn’t just focus on one voice, I decided to embody all three female voices in Judges 5: Deborah, Jael, and Sisera’s mother. As Bal writes, Judges 5 has the potential to give voice to women responding to war. The startling thing about the song in Judges 5 is there are multiple perspectives given and these perspectives collide with one another. The preacher can allow the text’s multiple focalisations to move them to ‘consider the lives and viewpoints of those whom we normally consider as the Other’.[15] Chenoweth uses the word ‘refocalisation’ to describe how writers can tell a traditional well-known story from a different point of view and he suggests there is a role for biblical fiction to do the same.[16] I would add this can also happen through preaching which can be a creative act.

It begins by imagining what each character would observe from their position in the story. What questions might they have about God? A preacher can express emotion; weep, get angry, allow themselves to be immersed in the text, to identify with those who are powerless and to feel what it might be like to be in a similar position. In my sermon in order for me to change between the three different women, I also wrote a fourth voice in. This voice was the narrator/theologian and could help the listeners navigate between the different stories and give the application. I would need to ask another woman to read these words, which adds to the sound of different female voices I want people to hear. As Bal argues, this song seems to come from a female tradition, and I wanted to really dive into that idea. I don’t think I fully appreciated how difficult it would preach such a sermon. It took an emotional toll on me as I tried to inhabit Jael. It was a really dark place to sit in. Then was also an emotional toll on the congregation. But I think it did get people to feel and ask questions about what justice looks like, and how unclear it can sometimes be.

 

[1] Bal, Death & Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges.

[2] Ronald J Allen, Preaching and the Other: Studies of Postmodern Insights (St Louis: Chalice Press, 2009), 50.

[3] Block, Judges, Ruth. 53.

[4] John G. Stackhouse, Need to Know : Vocation as the Heart of Christian Epistemology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014), 126.

[5] Bryan Chapell, Christ-Centered Sermons: Models of Redemptive Preaching, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 210.

[6] Allen, Preaching and the Other: Studies of Postmodern Insights, 57.

[7] Sam Chan, Preaching as the Word of God: Answering an Old Question with Speech Act Theory (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2016), 160-61.

[8] Fred B Craddock, As One without Authority, 3rd ed. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1979), 1-20.

[9] “Churches Where Women Preach in Australia,” Fixinghereyes, http://www.fixinghereyes.org/women-preaching.

[10] Other feminist scholars such as Florence also make this point. Florence argues that ‘women proclaim scripture through a hermeneutics of marginality’, see: Anna Carter Florence, Preaching as Testimony (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 96.

[11] Florence argues in fact there is greater authority in preaching when you are powerless. Ibid., 103.

[12] Cheney also addresses this in her work. See: Emily Cheney, She Can Read: Feminist Reading Strategies for Biblical Narrative (Valley Forge, Pa.: Trinity Press International, 1996).

[13] Brenner and Dijk Hemmes, On Gendering Texts: Female and Male Voices in the Hebrew Bible, 21.

[14] Durber, another preacher learning from feminist scholars, also suggests this approach, Susan Durber, Preaching Like a Woman (London: SPCK, 2007), 26.

[15] Park, “The World of the Judges in the Modern Context,” 240.

[16] Ben Chenoweth, “The Pedagogy of Biblical Fiction: Where Research and Creativity Collide,” in Wondering About God Together, ed. Les Ball and Peter G. Bolt (Macquarie Park: SCD Press, 2018), 288.

 

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